Friday, September 10, 2010

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas families with a member who suffers from developmental disabilities are closely watching a trial taking place in a courtroom in Little Rock.

State government is on trial, defending the operations of the Conway Human Development Center against a lawsuit brought by federal officials of the United States Department of Justice.

The federal government says that the Conway center deprives residents of their rights to be cared for in the least restrictive environment possible. State government attorneys say that facilities like the Conway center are necessary for people with disabilities who are so medically fragile that they cannot thrive in a community program or in their family home.

The courtroom was packed with family members of residents of the Conway center. Many relatives of people living at the Conway center have expressed vocal support for the staff and the operations of the center. Family members say that they choose to place relatives with severe disabilities at the Conway center, which they consider their permanent home.

Witnesses for the federal government were critical of staff, alleging instances when residents had been improperly restrained or when residents had harmed themselves because they had not been watched carefully.

The center has about 500 residents, both children and adults. They get therapy, education and counseling. The Conway facility is one of five human development centers operated by state government. The others are in Arkadelphia, Booneville, Jonesboro and Warren. A sixth center at Alexander has recently been closed.

The federal Justice Department has filed a separate lawsuit in which all the Arkansas human development centers are defendants. At issue is the proper role of long term care institutions as permanent residences for people who are very hard to care for due to their severe and multiple disabilities.

The Division of Developmental Disabilities Services, which is an agency within the state Human Services Department, believes that long term care institutions offer valuable options to people with disabilities who need intensive care. On the other hand, the federal government believes institutions play too large a role in Arkansas, and that the state should instead spend more on other options like community based care.

In the dispute between state and federal officials over the best type of care and therapy for people with disabilities, much is said about Medicaid eligibility. That is because treatment is too expensive for all but the wealthiest of families, therefore the government pays for care through the Medicaid program.

Any treatment option that is not paid for by Medicaid is effectively out of reach for most families who have a member with a severe disability. According to federal officials, people want community care and there are about 3,000 people on the waiting list in Arkansas. However, because of the long waiting list they have no choice but to place their relatives in an institution, the federal officials contend.

However, many families are concerned because their loved ones are so medically fragile they cannot live outside of a long term care facility. Their concern is that state-run institutions may be forced to close if federal officials win the lawsuit.

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